A company partly owned by the Venezuelan government is importing phosphate from the disputed North African territory of Western Sahara, despite state policy to stamp out the practice.
President of chemical company Tripoliven, Nicolas Marin, told news website Armando the company trades in phosphate that “originates from Bou Craa, which we import from Morocco”.
Bou Craa is a major phosphate mine in Western Sahara, a disputed territory occupied by Morocco. The site is administered by the Moroccan state resource company, OCP.
Along with fishing, phosphate is one of the main industries in Western Sahara. Western Saharan independence advocates say revenue from the phosphate trade encourages the Moroccan occupation, and that mining at Bou Craa is contrary to the interests of the indigenous population, the Sahrawi.
The Moroccan government has long maintained Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom.
The revelations that Tripoliven is importing phosphate from Bou Craa have sparked criticism from the Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), an international NGO that tracks exports from Western Sahara.
According to a WSRW statement, Tripoliven denied allegations it was importing phosphate from OCP in early 2013.
“Yet, something about the answer did not appear correct. After all, WSRW kept observing the vessels voyaging with phosphates into their port directly from the occupied territory,” WSRW stated.
Tripoliven is part- owned by Venezuelan state enterprise Pequiven, which is administered by the petroleum ministry. The US-based chemical giant FMC also has a stake in the company, but has denied trading in OCP phosphate in the past.
Venezuelan right-wing newspaper El Universal accused the government of having a “double standard” on Western Sahara, when it published a report on the phosphate trade last week.
El Universal collaborated with Armando in the investigation into Tripoliven.
The late former president Hugo Chavez was a strident critic of Morocco’s treatment of the Sahrawi, and backed the Western Saharan independence movement.
In 2009, Chavez called for greater “awareness and solidarity” with the Sahrawi.
“I tell you on behalf of Venezuela, we support and we will always support the cause of your people, the cause of the freedom of the Sahrawi,” Chavez stated.
Earlier that same year, Morocco closed its Venezuelan embassy, citing Chavez’s support for the Western Saharan government in exile, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
Since then, Venezuela has been a major aid donor to SADR-administered refugee camps that straddle Western Sahara’s border with Algeria.
In 2011, Venezuela and Cuba co-funded the first high school in the camps. Previously, high school students had to travel abroad to undertake secondary education.
Chavez’s government contributed over US$1 million to the school.
In 2013, Venezuela’s environmental ministry sponsored 10 SADR technicians to travel to Venezuela and undertake advanced training in hydrogeology and drilling. The Venezuelan government described the initiative as “strike a blow to the neoliberal policies of imperialism”, stating the technicians could use their training to improve SADR’s access to underground reservoirs in the Sahara.
Today, Venezuelan flags are a common sight in the SADR camps.